Autumn & Her Ember Days

While the green is still in the trees, the herbs on the deck pickable, and the ocean still somewhat swimable, the air has begun to chill here. The evenings are beginning to smell of woodsmoke, and the last major storm we had blew away what I hope is the last of the Summer humidity.

In the calendar this past week were a few days I have not paid much attention to over the past few years, but seeing that it was on the horizon early last week I decided to read and write a little bit about it. Wednesday was the beginning of the Autumn Ember Days. The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Holy Cross Day (Sept. 14) constitute the Autumn Ember Days, also known as the Michaelmas Embertide. Ember Days occur at other points throughout our year as well: following the first Sunday in Advent (Advent Embertide), following the first Sunday in Lent (Lenten Embertide), and following Pentecost (Whit Embertide).

Abel Grimmer (1607)
Abel Grimmer (1607)

The origins of the name Ember are somewhat disputed. Some explanations point towards a derivation of the Latin Quatuor Temporum, or Four Times, in reference to their occurrences through the year while others look to Anglo-Saxon roots. I rather like Ember, and don’t pay much heed to the origins of the name.

There’s a few things that may be immediately noticeable about Ember Days. The first, is that they always occur following important days in the church calendar (Holy Cross, Advent 1, Lent 1, Pentecost). Perhaps even more obvious though, is that they occur, generally speaking, near the beginning of the natural seasons–although really at the beginning of the seasons measured astronomically.

During the Church year, ordinations both to the Diaconate and to the Priesthood (typically) take place on the Embertide Saturday; historians think that this has been ongoing since Gelasius I (AD 494). About the Embertide Collect, John Henry Blunt writes, ‘The Ember-day Collect is a continual witness before God and man of the interest which the whole body of the Church has in the ordination of the Clergy who are to minister in it’ (The Annotated Book of Common Prayer, J.H. Blunt D.D., 1892). While the general Embertide collect beseeches the Almighty to, ‘Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all those who are to be called to any office and administration in the same’ (Canadian BCP, 1962), the Autumn Embertide collect is is befitting of the season, ‘Prosper all those who maintain the industries of this land; and give them pride in their work, a just reward for their labour, and joy both in supplying the needs of others and in serving thee their saviour…’ (Candian BCP, 1962)

Despite being near to the Harvest season for us, the Autumn Ember Days, like all other Ember Days, are days of penitential fasting. The Embertides are seen as times of renewal, discernment, penitence and contemplation. Due as well to their relation to the natural seasons, they are also times of contemplation and stewardship of and for the natural world, ‘We will consider now the special intentions of the Church in the institution of the Ember Days. They are intended to consecrate to God the four seasons of the year; to implore the Divine blessing upon the fruits of the earth, and thank almighty God for their safe harvesting’ (A Pulpit Commentary, H.G. Hughes).

The days remain yet mysterious but lovely times in our calendar, to me, but there will be three more occasions upon which to think and write on them. I close with a poem about the Autumn season we’re now entering (my favourite time)

When the Frost is on the Pumpkin

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bare-headed, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pitcur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries –kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below — the clover overhead!
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is getherd, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ‘s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it — but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me
I’d want to ‘commondate ’em — all the whole-indurin’ flock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

As a note: Most of the research for this post was not done by me; much of the information as well as the poem was borrowed from here. A great resource for thoughts upon the Ember Days.


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